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Haiti donations on track to break records

Haiti, January 19, 2010

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Judy Keen

USA Today
January, 2010

Celebrities, companies, sports teams and regular Americans are mobilizing to help in the wake of the Haiti earthquake with an outpouring of generosity that could exceed private donations made after Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Asian tsunami.

"We're hearing that this is breaking all records," says Sandra Miniutti of Charity Navigator, an independent group that evaluates U.S. charities.

After Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, private donations by Americans totaled $6.47 billion, says Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. Almost $2 billion was given by private U.S. donors after the Asian tsunami.

Horrific images of the devastation in Haiti, the proximity of the island country to the USA and advances in technology that allow instant giving online and via cellphones are prompting the surge in giving, says Joy Portella of Mercy Corps, a charity providing disaster relief in Haiti.

As people learn more about the destruction, she says, "I think there will be more giving." Amazon.com's homepage has a link to Mercy Corps that raised $111,000 in its first six hours.

No organization has compiled total giving, but donations are adding up quickly: Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie gave $1 million to Doctors Without Borders. CNN founder Ted Turner said he'll give $1 million to relief efforts. The New York Yankees donated $500,000. Eli Lilly and Co. pledged $125,000 in immediate aid and $125,000 more over the next year.

The American Red Cross has raised $8 million through texts that add $10 donations to phone bills. Oxfam America has raised $2.7 million.

Money is on the ground now to help with immediate needs such as food, water and medical supplies, says Lt. Col. Dan Starrett, executive director of the Salvation Army World Service Office.

Sal Fabens of United Way Worldwide says other problems — such as health care and rebuilding homes, schools and infrastructure — will be addressed in phases. "At this point, nobody knows what is going to be needed," she says.

Help is coming on a smaller scale, too. Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Molino, Fla., is collecting soap, towels, combs and other personal hygiene items. Meals from the Heartland, a group based in West Des Moines, is asking for donations to buy food that Iowans will use to prepare meals to ship to Haiti.

Aid groups say cash is most useful. Fabens says items such as donated food "may not be usable if the region is inaccessible." Miniutti says relief groups buy supplies locally when possible to stimulate the economy.

Cory Whittaker, a Global Outreach International missionary in Jacmel, Haiti, says "cash is best" because "shipping supplies to Haiti takes such a long time ... and sometimes are not even received."

When "the initial chaos dies down," Whittaker says, he expects a flood of supplies to arrive. "I'm certain," he says, "that everything will be needed."